Jesus taught, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). There are many ways we can judge others, but I would like to focus on one particular way, speaking critically or negatively of others.
I’ve been in homes as a home teacher, a scout leader, a friend, and a telephone repairman. In addition, I’ve been in grade school classrooms while laying computer network cables. In many of these visits, I’ve observed both adults and youth being critical and negative with the other people in the room. “Don’t do that!” “You should know better!” “You idiot!” “Why can’t you behave, just once?” “You’re so dumb you can’t do anything right!” “Shut up, Mom!” I believe this behavior of constant criticism is a cancer that is spreading over the world. Criticism eats away at our relationships, and it destroys the self-image and self-confidence of the people we criticize.
I learned as a Scoutmaster in Massachusetts, about the power of being positive with my scouts. I wanted the troop to be a safe place for the boys, a refuge from the critical world they were in. I thus had a troop policy that that we would never say negative things about others in the troop. When I heard the boys being critical of other scouts, I reminded them that in our troop we only say positive things about each other. Our troop did become a haven for the boys, and it became a place of trust and support. I knew I could trust the boys, and they knew they could trust me.
The highlight of our scouting year was the week-long summer camp. They left our campsite each morning, and I had no idea where they were or what they were doing during the day (I, of course, knew where they should have been and what they should have been doing). I didn’t go around checking on them during the day, because I knew I could trust them. At night, they voluntarily reported to me about their activities and classes. We were the only Mormon (LDS) troop at the camp, and I’m sure they had a lot of opportunities for mischief, but they handled themselves well, because they had learned proper conduct during our monthly campouts and weekly Mutual meetings. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, teach them principles of righteousness and let them govern themselves. My scouts were self-governing.
Being positive with our children can cause miracles. There was a Sister in my ward in Phoenix who had a daughter who had poor handwriting. The mother wanted to help her daughter develop her penmanship skills, so she began complementing her daughter on the improvement in her handwriting — she was planting seeds of self-esteem, confidence, and a desire for improvement. Sure enough, her daughter’s handwriting improved, and the experience was a positive one for the child and an exciting one for the mother.
I believe we should be positive with our children in every possible way, even to the point of using positive phrases in our sentences. Instead of saying, “Don’t forget to wear your coat”, say, “Remember to wear your coat”. That difference in phraseology is a small thing, but it indicates that our thinking and attitudes are positive.
We must remember that we do not own our children. They are not our “slaves” to order around as we see fit. They belong to our Father in Heaven, and we have them as stewards. Our role as parents is to train our children to be positive, self-sufficient adults. We must respect the agency the Lord has given our children and not force them to be “good”, and we must train and discipline them with kindness and love as the Lord counseled in Sections 4 and 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants (those scriptures are discussed in detail in my essay on Parenting, the Lord’s Way). The time will come when we will stand before God and report to Him about our stewardship of His children.
If you would like to do additional reading on being positive with your children, I recommend the Positive Discipline books by Dr. Jane Nelsen. We must discipline our children, but it must be positive discipline that builds and strengthens our children.